Young, Professional, and a “Young Professional”

February 1, 2015

There are certain words and terms in our vernacular that have been used, overused, repurposed, abbreviated and misappropriated for long enough that they have become almost meaningless.


Take, for instance, the word ‘entrepreneur.’ Each person reading this article will have a different definition of this word. It might bring to mind a certain person, an action, a unique lifestyle. “Entrepreneur” might be an inspiring word, or it might be a word that evokes a sigh and a shake of the head.


In my work environment, that word gets used daily. We talk about entrepreneurs in reference to the night-owls who are designing apps and software, their fingers swollen from coding, their eyes manic and red from a combination of computer screen glow and extra-large Red Bulls.


There’s also the negative connotation: those who snub their noses at the corporate world because they are unable to function in a work environment. Maybe you know him: the coworker three cubicles down who is always threatening to quit because “I’ve got this amazing idea, plus I’m just not cut out for the 9-5.” His LinkedIn bio is “aspiring entrepreneur stuck working for the man.”


Whatever your definition, it is most certainly based on your experience with those who are called, or who call themselves, entrepreneurs. Shift one generalization over and we are confronted with another named demographic: the young professional. Two such general terms, lumped together to describe a person or group of people who may have nothing in common except their birth decade.


As of right now, I am younger than most of my colleagues and have a job. Therefore, I am a young professional. To me, this classification sounds a lot like “student driver,” only I don’t have a yellow sign attached to me warning other professionals to handle me with care and to not be alarmed if I step on the brakes or swerve slightly to the right.


The workplace challenges I’ve encountered due to my age are relatively few in number, but all spawn from the same arena: technology. I matured alongside social networks and cell phones. For better or for worse, they are a part of me and I, through my use of them, have influenced their growth in a miniscule way.  


The technology issue is one that has the potential to make or break a young professional, depending on how he or she deals with the pressures and needs of the workplace. In my limited experience, I have witnessed emotions ranging from extreme resistance to infuriating apathy. The young professional has a choice when confronted with these emotions: ignore or engage.  


Because of a lack of experience, young professionals are often the students, not the teachers. The opportunity lies in providing the space and time to switch that role; to learn from the younger workers’ lifetime spent absorbing social norms and skills related to technology.


This advice is not directed solely at  those outside of the named demographic. For this temporary role-reversal to be considered in the workplace, the young professional must present him or herself as knowledgeable, competent and patient. The information cannot be presented casually, quickly or in a disorganized manner. There should always be follow-up and the offer of one-on-one assistance.


Offering this service might not change everything, but then again it might. For example, adoption of new methods can positively impact efficiency and communication in the workplace. The young person who considers technology an important, teachable tool for success rather than a secret weapon for personal gain is one who can be trusted in the long term with other important concepts or projects.


Bridging that divide can decrease the distance between the young and seasoned professionals and strengthen a working environment regardless of age.


Originally published in Valley Business Front


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